Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Dead ‘Pak girl’ was from Malegaon’s Islamabad

Eight-year-old Sajeda Bano Rizwan (above) was killed in the Malegaon cemetry blaston September 8, 2006. She belonged to `Islamabad' area in Malegaon. However, a news channel aired a story saying she belonged to Islamabad in Pakistan

Mateen Hafeez | TNN

Pakistan’s capital city of Islamabad is over fifteen hundred kilometres away from this powerloom township, but a local area here also called by that name came into news two days ago, when a section of the media reported that a Pakistani girl was among those killed in the serial blasts that rocked Malegaon last Friday.

The fact, however, is that Sajeda Bano Rizwan (8), a resident of Islamabad—located in the southern part of Malegaon—was on her way to celebrate Shab-e-Baraat festival to her maternal uncle’s house when she went missing in the crowd near Bada Qabrastan and was finally found dead in the morgue of the NN Wadia Hospital on Saturday.

Media reports that Sajeda had come from Pakistan’s capital city to meet her uncle in Malegaon on the occasion of Shab-e-Baraat, led to much confusion and soon rumours started doing the rounds that some Pakistan-backed militant outfits were involved in the terror crime. It took two days for the police to find out that took two days to find out that Sajeda was resident of Malegaon and not Pakistan.

With most of its population of around 12,000 Muslims, Malegaon’s Islamabad is surrounded by the Mausam river on its west and south. On its north is located the historic fort of Raja Narav Shankar. Abdul Khalidque Sardar, a resident of nearby area, said, “Islamabad came into existence soon after the fort came into existence in 1600s.’’ While there are three Sunni mosques in the area—Kausar Masjid, Hayat Masjid and Nageena Masjid—the corner of Islamabad is home to Malegaon’s single mosque for Shias.’’ Partitioned on lines of the different classes living there, in Islamabad’s north live the textile merchants or the middleclass people, while the south is home to the poor and the labourer class that included Sajeda’s family.

Sajeda’s family said they tried to search for her for over two hours before the bombs went off but in vain. “People started running helter skelter shouting that there was blast. We saw people in a pool of blood and the vehicles being smashed. But we didn’t find our sister,’’ said 16-year-old Zainab, Sajeda’s elder sister.

A class IV student in a municipal school here, Sajeda along with her mother and other siblings, was headed for her uncle’s home. “Every year we go to my brother’s place for Shabe-Baraat. This time too, I was taking my six daughters, including Sajeda, there when three of them insisted that they wanted to see the stream of beggars who arrive from across the country for alms outside the mosques on the day. The main road and the by-lanes were heavily crowded and all of sudden Sajeda got separated from us and went missing in the huge crowd,’’ said a mourning Rasheeda Bano, Sajeda’s mother.

The family lodged a missing complaint with the Azad Nagar police station and the next day the police asked them to come and see a girl’s body lying at the hospital. “I identified my sister’s body which was wrapped in a dupatta. It was divided into two pieces from her waist. Her legs had broken with multiple injuries. She was buried at the Bada Qabrastan on Saturday afternoon,’’ said Sajeda’s brother Irfan.

Sajeda was the eighth child among her six sisters and three brothers. While her mother is a widow, brother Irfan is paralysed and can’t work to earn. Her second brother, Nihal, works in Malegaon Spinning Mill on a salary of Rs 1,000 per month, while her two teenaged sisters work as domestic in Chunabhatti and Belbaug areas for Rs 60 per week. This family of nine depends on Rs 1,500 earnings per month, but Aarafa, another of Sajeda’s sister, claims, “It’s enough to support our family.’’

(The Times of India, September 13, 2006)

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The man who could have built Malegaon—but didn’t

A Bitter, Battered Town Picks Up The Pieces And Struggles To Return To The Routine Of Daily Life

Jyoti Punwani

If Malegaon’s image has remained unchanged for the last 15 years—a large ghetto of uneducated and poor Muslims ready to erupt at the slightest provocation—every political party in Maharashtra has been responsible. But some individuals and groups have played a key role in keeping Malegaon divided and backward. Nihal Ahmed, the 79-year-old king of Malegaon for 22 long years from 1977-1999, heads that list.

Not too long ago, Ahmed was one of a dying breed: the khadi-clad Muslim who always wore a Gandhi topi; sharptongued follower of Lohia who had little patience for religion. The appearance and the irreverence remain; but when Ahmed saw his power over Malegaon slipping away, Lohia gave way to communal politics of a kind the porkeating Jinnah would have marvelled at.

In the 1978 assembly elections, when the Janata Party was in power at the Centre, Ahmed won the Malegaon assembly seat with 57% of the votes, a percentage unmatched till today. But by the late ‘90s, the self-confessed disciple of socialist legends Nanasaheb Gore and S M Joshi, the comrade-in-arms of Madhu Limaye and Mrinal Gore, had turned into the man who kicked out at a Ganpati pandal because it blocked the way of a Moharram procession.

This was the same man who used to readily join in the Ganpati aarti at Malegaon’s various mandals.

In an interview with this reporter after the October 2001 riots, Ahmed blamed his failure to build up a strong organisational base for his defeat in the 1999 assembly elections. Forget a base, 22 years was enough time for Ahmed to have changed the profile of Malegaon’s residents. Instead of concentrating only on regularising slums and issuing ration cards, Ahmed could have built schools, hospitals and provided water, to these slums. His political base would have been built automatically.

From 1984-2004, the BJP and Sena went all out to communalise the country. Every Lohiaite worth their khadi tried to counter this venom. Nihalbhai did so in his own way: sometimes by ganging up with the Shiv Sena against a common enemy, the Congress; at other times by matching provocation for provocation: calling a public meeting to denounce the burning of the Koran by the Bajrang Dal in Delhi, when everywhere, the attempt was to play down the incident; or leading, against the advice of his fellow Hindu Janata Dal (S) councillors, a Muslims-only procession against the US invasion of Afghanistan, flanked by youth bearing Osama Bin Laden’s portraits.

A week after this procession, Malegaon saw riots in which 13 persons were killed. The immediate cause was the unnecessary snatching by an SRP constable, of Urdu leaflets entitled ‘Be Indian, Buy Indian’ (calling for a boycott of US products), which were being distributed outside the Jama Masjid after Friday prayers. Ahmed could have rushed there and pacified the crowd, thereby possibly preventing the loss of many young lives. “Why should I?’’ he countered. “It wasn’t my programme. If they didn’t have the power to control their followers, why did they distribute the pamphlets? Those who died were fools, jumping headlong into wherever the current took them.’’

Ahmed’s cynical politics was matched by the RSSSena’s equally cynical use of religion in the Hindu-dominated villages adjoining Malegao. The VHP’s ‘Dharmayudh’ against “Islamic and Christian terrorism’’, and the Sena and Jaanta Raja (a new organisation inspired by the Sena’s Anand Dighe), built up an atmosphere which resulted in attacks, for the first time in 2001, on the few Muslims living in these villages for generations. A Muslim woman was raped there, in retaliation, for similar acts perpetrated on Hindu women in Malegaon—a rumour deliberately spread, but which could not be substantiated by the police or by fact-finding teams.

The 2001 riots saw 13 deaths; only one of them was a Hindu. Four Muslims were killed by Hindu mobs, and eight in police firing. Thus the police, who fired only on Muslims, must be included in the list of those who’ve kept Malegaon divided.

Any surprise that SIMI has flourished in Malegaon?

(The writer was part of a fact-finding team that visited Malegaon after the 2001 riots)

(The Times of India, September 12, 2006)

Bajrang Wadi remains oasis of calm in a riot-torn town

SECULAR AND IN THE FACE: Devi Mata Temple and Motipura mosque share the same wall


Mandir, masjid stand next to each other, Hindu and Muslim families observe prayer code daily

Nitin Yeshwantrao and Mateen Hafeez | TNN

Undoubtedly, it is a proud symbol of harmony in strife-torn Malegaon. The Devi Mata Mandir and the century-old Motipura Masjid, which stand next to each other, bring Hindus and Muslims in Bajrang Wadi together for celebrations of Id and Diwali.

The respect and reverence shown to each other’s faith is complete. Care is taken to ensure that the timings of bhajans and evening prayers in the temple do not clash with the namaaz. At the time of the azaan (the muezzin’s call to the faithful for prayers), temple officials shut down their speakers and refrain from playing the cymbals and the drums.

Even in these communally charged times, Bajrang Wadi seems far removed from the turbulence in the powerloom town. A constant stream of devotees continues to make its way to the temple everyday for evening rituals and bhajans, often passing in front of the mosque; on the other side, the crowd gathers at five different times of the day to offer namaaz.

“It is a sort of an unwritten and unspoken understanding between both the communities. We have ourselves framed the code of conduct and each one takes adequate care not to breach this code. Just in front of the masjid a Ganesh pandal is erected. But our Hindu brothers make sure that there is no cymbals chanting and drum-beating when we offer namaaz. There is proper understanding and it has worked well all these years,’’ said Fazalur Rahman Almohammadi, a local journalist.

Such is the cooperation and trust between the two communities that during the reconstruction of the temple about a year ago, water used for all the works came from the masjid. Rather than order tanker water, temple authorities found it convenient as the masjid had a well inside.

Hafeez Jamal, another resident and a regular at the Motipura masjid, said despite the several communal disturbances in the powerloom town over the years, Hindu families in predominantly Muslim Bajrang Wadi had continued to feel secure.

“There has been no trouble so far and god willing, the same situation will prevail no matter whatever happens elsewhere in the town,’’ said Hafeez.

Although the temple and the masjid have been provided security cover of late with about 10-12 armed police personnel, policemen on duty too vouch for the secular credentials of people living here.

“There is no trouble here and it is business as usual but I think it is safe to have a police posse just in case some miscreants would want to disturb the peace,’’ an official on conditions of anonymity told TOI.

Almohammadi said there was an attempt some years back to create tension when a Ganpati procession from another area flung gulal on the doors of the masjid. “However, we arrived there in time and washed it all away without making too much of a song and dance about it. These things have to be ignored in the larger interest,’’ he added.

The Hindus, despite being in a minority in Bajrang Wadi with just about 50-75 families, say they have always felt safe despite the turbulence all around them. Pradip Bagul, a trustee of the Devi Mata Mandir, said he has been residing in the area for the last 40 years and never once has he felt helpless or insecure.

“Almost the entire neighbourhood is Muslim but I have no fear from them. I have grown up with them. There was no harm to us even in the worst of times. Even on Friday when the blast occured outside the Kabrastan, there was no tension here. We were all united in grief,’’ Bagul said.

Another local Sachin Shelar said their faith in Muslims in the neighbourhood is unshaken despite the frequent incidents of communal violence in the town.

“Here, there is perfect syncronisation between the communities. Our prayers are either after or much before the Muslim brothers start their namaaz. When the namaaz is in progress no one here rings the bells and beats the cymbals. We have lived in peace and will continue to live like one good family,’’ Shelar declared.

The Times of India, September 12, 2006

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Once upon a time in Malegaon

Malegaon is a vast enchanting land with bright green rivulets and undulating pastures where lovers romp as food keeps falling from the sky. But this is from a pig's point of view.

For the human inhabitants of this place whose demarcation from other species is not a municipal success yet, it is a failed town built around melancholic power looms set up by Muslims who had fled after the sepoy mutiny.

With no clear prospects today and nowhere else to go, young men here have a haunting look of being stranded. Fodder for terror, experts says. It was always like this in Malegaon, delicately on the edge, where life unfolds everyday as though something bad is going to happen.

As it did on Friday when bombs went off outside a mosque, disturbing even the sigh of a graveyard. Till a few months ago, Fridays were days of much merriment. Malegaon's own films would release in small video halls. Those were magical moments in the lives of its youth.

When they would emerge from hellish power looms and searing welding sheds, and watch their friends or themselves become part of a parallel cinema that made hilarious spoofs of Hindi films.

From the grime of daily-wage labour rose Malegaon's Amitabh Bachchan, Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh, Dharmendra, Pran and many others who looked into a mirror and found real or imagined similarities with some men from Bombay, a mythical city believed to be 300 km from their town.

They acted free in Malegaon ke Karan Arjun, Malegaon ka Rangeela and many such films including what is now considered a classic, Malegaon ke Sholay in which Gabbar Singh became Rubber Singh and Basanti became Basmati. These films, against all expectations, became culture.

Shafeeque, a welder who is Malegaon's Amitabh, had even begun to wear sunglasses because he was, "famous". People accosted him on the road and his friends requested him to meet their relatives. But all this ended.

A few months ago, the government banned the video halls in the town because they didn't have licences. Nor did they qualify for the theatre licence. They were considered illegal. They have become clothes stores and restaurants today. Without those primary distribution outlets, Malegaon's unique spoofs died.

This reporter was there about three years ago when they were filming Malegaon ki Lagaan with a budget of about Rs 30,000, an amount that came grudgingly from a lineman with the electricity board after he was promised that his son will be given a role.

The lineman's other demand was that his son and not Malegaon's Aamir should score the winning runs in the film. But the second demand was rejected by director Farogh Jafri, whose red GAP T-shirt was torn at the armpits, "on creative grounds".

This Lagaan was set in 1935 and the story was that an Englishman asks the vegetarian king of Malegaon to swallow an egg. The king refuses and before the Englishman could cut off the power supply to Malegaon, Aamir challenges the white men to a cricket match.

Fair boys from the town played Englishmen and fair girls, sometimes sourced from Mumbai at a rate of Rs 5,000 for three days, played white girls. "They are respectfully treated with Bisleri," said Malegaon's Dharmendra while commenting on his film industry, "and sent back with honour."

When we were there in Malegaon, there were no girls and the local male cast had not assembled on the sets yet. "Those fools wouldn't come for the shoot on some days. But everybody would be here on the day the girls come," the lineman producer said angrily.

However, as the hours passed, the cast of Malegaon ki Lagaan, all of them welders, powerloom workers or unemployed boys, slowly assembled outside a decrepit palace which was locked and the man who had the keys was missing.

When Aamir Khan finally arrived, Farogh remembered one of his misfortunes. He slapped his forehead and said, "My Aamir looks like Ajay Devgan." The boy had got the role after investing Rs 4,000 in the project.

He was supposed to bring more money but after a few scenes were canned he had said that he was broke. They could not change the hero. So they changed the producer.

Farogh faced many other problems. Like, his "cinematographer" was a wedding cameraman and would not turn up for the shoot sometimes if he got sudden wedding assignments. When he did come, he would often sit at one end of a bullock cart as crew members pushed down the other end.

This was the crane in Malegaon. Sometimes, the camera was placed on a bicycle and carted around the characters since Malegaon obviously had no money to hire a trolley to pan the camera.

A scrawny feeble man in a shirt that used be white, who was a standby for the role of Kachra in the film, asked us if we had seen Hema Malini. He said she often appeared in his dreams, "to place my head on her lap and put me to sleep." The enticement of cinema was all too evident in Malegaon.

They were very serious about acting. Some paid money to get significant roles. Some came for the free food. But there was this unmistakable joy on the sets. They were in a movie, and that mattered.

Many of them discussed their future projects which included an ambitious Malegaon ka Rambo and a special effects film called Malegaon ka Dinosaur. We hear that those films could not be made.

And possibly will never be made. Some still make films but these are not glorious spoofs. They are short films with social messages. Those hurried comedies and their grand Friday releases in Malegaon's quaint video halls are all over. Once, in Malegaon, there was art.

The Times of India, September 10, 2006

Saturday, September 9, 2006

A history of communal violence

Nitin Yeshwantrao | TNN

Malegaon is no stranger to communal violence. It is a township born in the shadow of violence—set up after thousands of Muslim families from Delhi fleeing the British suppression of 1857 relocated here. Others moved closer on to Mumbai and settled in Bhiwandi, its sister township where the sound of powerlooms dominates all else.

In Malegaon the majority-minority roles are reversed with three-fourths of 7.5-lakh township being Muslim, the majority of whom are from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and many from Bangladesh. Ever since the first riot in 1963—sparked by clashes between two community processions for Ganpati Visarjan and Moharram, both of which happened to fall on the same day—Malegaon has taken several hits: in the sixties, the early eighties, in 1992, and worst of all in October 2001 when the army had to be called in to restore peace. Earlier this year, in May, the police seizure of a large consignment of RDX and weapons from an electrical shop accentuated the stigma of “terror town”. Locals found that families from other parts of the state were nervous about marrying their daughter into Malegaon, a place now marked by the acronyms of SIMI, LeT and RDX.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, the township is unhealthily ghettoised with the Mausam river, more nullah than river, forming an unsanitary boundary between the two populations. But while the physical segregation seems almost complete, the lives of the two communities remain deeply intertwined by the dictates of trade: the suppliers of yarn are largely Hindu, the weavers mostly Muslim. After the 1992 riots, the numerous mohalla committees set up have worked hard to bridge the divide, and the peace was won in 2003 when the torn pages of the Quran in a local mosque did not spark riots as feared.

In 2002, after the Gujarat riots, truckloads of Muslim families moved to Malegaon, among them the most iconic face of the Gujarat riots—Qutubuddin Ansari, the tailor whose desperate face haunted India after a photographer captured him pleading for mercy before a rampaging mob. Ansari worked in a garment factory in Malegaon till his picture was published in a local paper. His panic-stricken employer who wanted nothing to do with him, promptly asked him to leave.

No picture postcard, the landscape is a blight of small houses pressed up against each other on narrow streets. Swarms of pigs move around doing the job of absent drains and grim lines of handloom factories are packed with child labourers. Dim and unventilated with long working hours, the Factory Act seems to have left Malegaon unscathed.

Malegaon mayor had banned Vande Mataram
Malegaon locals are known to be a hardworking lot, slogging from morning to night in the textile and plastic factories. The average wage is Rs 300 a week, barely enough to feed the mostly large families. The five-day curfew during the 2001 riots reduced many workers to penury forcing them to depend on the charity of the local masjids to get by.

The Vande Mataram debate now being played out in the rest of India erupted here many years ago when Malegaon’s mayor Nihal Ahmed, a senior Janata Dal leader, decided to ban the song from the civic body’s daily proceedings. The decision rocked the state assembly.

In 2004, Malegaon cropped up again in the controversy surrounding the gunning down of two youngsters suspected to have links with the LeT—Ishrat Shaikh from Mumbra and her friend Javed. The IB said the two who had made trips to Lucknow, Malegaon and Ahmedabad, all LeT strongholds.

In 1997, when J P Dutta’s Border was released, Malegaon had posters on the walls advising people not to see the film as it was ‘anti-Muslim’. The producer claimed the posters had not affected the turnout. Malegaon has an active film industry which churns out home-made films such as Malegaon ke Sholay and Malegaon ki Lagaan. The films run to full houses, especially on Friday which is the weekly off, when the streets are redolent with the smell of biryani. This Friday, sadly, was different.

(The Times of India, September 9, 2006)

Saturday, April 1, 2006

Malegaon will have police museum soon

By Mateen Hafeez/TNN

This textile hub will soon be the first taluka in the state to have a police museum for itself.

Officials feel the museum will preserve items of historical interest and also project the police as a citizen-friendly force. The project, initiated by additional SP Anil Kumbhare, is part of a modernisation plan for the force. The museum is ready to be inaugurated by director-general of police P S Pasricha on 3 April.

Going around the museum will also be an educative experience. It will give visitors an idea of traffic rules, safety measures for senior citizens (through sketches and cartoons) and have an advisory of how to prevent crime. But getting pride of place will be a letter written by Mahatma Gandhi on 23 March 1910 to then Mumbai police chief Griffith.

“The memorabilia include evolution of the traffic system and details of the introduction of a uniform for the force, the first police patrolling (on bicyles), the first highway accident in the world, the installation of the first traffic signal, the first registered accidental death in the country besides crime statistics,’’ Kumbhare said.

The museum will be at the City Police Station that also houses police quarters, a new mess and the additional SP’s office. “We have also obtained some sketches and will have statues that show figures in uniform, including that of the kotwal in Punjab (from 1861), the ceremonial uniform of the police (1873), armed police uniforms in Manipur and MP etc,’’ Kumbhare said.

Citizens can come and interact with officials. A group is now being trained to explain the collections to vistiors.

(The Times of India, April, 2006)